Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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What you missed while playing with your beer bottle opening remote control

Spurs 99, Thunder 96: Learning to win is filled with hard lessons, and the Spurs have been dishing them out to the Thunder all season. These are teams on opposite trajectories, but the Spurs have things to teach the young Thunder.

The latest came in a game where it was painfully clear how much more athletic the Thunder are, and with the Spurs on the second night of a back-to-back their legs looked tired. For a stretch late in the game, the Spurs missed six of seven while Serge Ibaka was bothering Duncan and blocking everything.

I can’t really stand the “they just find a way to win” cliché, but the Spurs just do not die. They stayed in it with smart plays then Manu Ginobili got the game winning free throws by making the veteran play of driving into Ibaka and drawing the foul. Meanwhile the Thunder were making rookie mistakes like when Russell Westbrook stepped on the line trying to inbound the ball. Oklahoma City’s final shot was not a mistake, Kevin Durant drew the double and got Thabo Sefolosha got a good look. It just missed. Hard lesson.

Magic 109, Sixers 93: If you don’t close out on Orlando’s three point shooters and mean it, it will be a long night. Orlando made 16 of 31 from beyond the arc. It was interesting early because Elton Brand went all 2006 and put up 18 early points. The Magic countered with the twin towers of Howard and Gortat. Dwight Howard had a double-double by halftime with that lineup and the Magic were in control the whole way.

Heat 99, Nets 89: Would it surprise you if I said that the Nets had the lead at halftime and got blown out in the third quarter? What if I told you the Nets made a late push but Miami held them off because Wade was 9 of 13 and the Heat just had better talent and could make the plays?

Bulls 98, Rockets 88: Hustle cannot make up for terrible shooting. Chicago played pretty good defense, but Rockets just missed open looks all night long. They shot 33 percent for the game and in the first 18 minutes of second half shot 13 percent. For the Bulls right now any win is a good one.

Bucks, 98, Hawks 95: Please, please let this be the four/five matchup in the East. It would be the best first round matchup of all the playoffs. Andrew Bogut and Al Horford are just fun to watch go at each other. Or see if the Hawks can keep John Salmons from scoring 32, 16 in the final quarter (when he was the best player on the floor).

This was not Joe Johnson’s finest hour. He fouled John Salmons late, trying to deny him the ball out near midcourt (the resulting free throws put the Bucks up 97-95). At the other end the ball was in his hand and he had a little eight-foot baseline floater that normally falls but did not this time, and that was ballgame.

Raptors 106, Timberwolves 100: Defense was banned from the Target Center for this one. Toronto just happened to shoot better on the night.

Hornets 115, Mavericks 95: Dallas has lost three of four since their 13-game post-trade wining streak, and they may now be playing their way into a tough first-round matchup. This game swung on a 23-0 Hornets run from last in the second quarter over to the start of the third. Not sure what else you think you need to know, teams that give up 23-0 runs rarely win games. Marcus Thornton had 28 after being pushed into the starting lineup.

Chris Paul looked good — not quite his spectacular self yet, but not like a guy who missed 25 games after knee surgery. He had 11 points and hit three of five from three. Good for the game to have him back.  

Jazz 110, Celtics 97: Deron Williams just abused Rajon Rondo in this one. If it is possible to be an underrated star in the NBA, Williams is it. He may be the best PG in the league. The Celtics led at half but their strategy of big guys protecting the paint left Mehmet Okur a bunch of good looks from three and he hit four of six from deep and spurred some second half runs. The Jazz at home are hard to beat and the Celtics were just not up to the task.

Grizzlies 102, Kings 85: This one was pre-ordained since Sacramento was without Tyreke Evans. Credit the Kings for hanging in and leading at the half, but this was going to end poorly for them.

Suns 133, Warriors 131: Most entertaining game of the night, by a mile. This game showcased the good and the bad of the Warriors lately — they got 29 points from Reggie Williams, a guy who has been in the NBA for 12 games after spending most of the season in the D-League. But with the game close late, the Warriors were in a situation down three where they needed Monta Ellis to make the first (he did) and miss the second, and Ellis shot it long and banked it in on accident. They find the players, they can’t execute.

Anthony Tolliver got his welcome to the NBA moment from Amare Stoudemire of the Suns. A vicious dunk.

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

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Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.

Andre Drummond focused on conditioning heading into contract season

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Andre Drummond can be a free agent next summer. That would mean walking away from a $28.8 million player option for that season, so he’s not going to do it unless he thinks he can land an even bigger payday (a max contract) or he decides he wants some security long term. Drummond has said he’s excited to be a free agent (then quickly tried to walk that back).

How Drummond plays this coming season will play a big role in what kind of offers he will get. What is Drummond doing to prepare for this contract year? Improving his conditioning, reports coach Dwane Casey to Pistons.com.

“One, his overall conditioning. He’s in the best shape since I’ve been around him, the year and a half that I’ve seen. His body is slim and trim, his body fat is down, he’s been in Vegas working with Coach Gerg (Tim Grgurich) and Sean Sweeney all summer religiously, two and three times a day. That in itself is going to pay great dividends. Watching him in pickup games, he’s running like a deer. His decision making, I think the 3-point shooting experiment, we kind of put that on hold in the second part of the year last year but still, catching the ball on pick and roll, making decisions, he’s doing a great job of that – a much better job than he did last year. That’s something he’s worked on this summer, making the right read, the right decision.”

This time of year, right before training camp, reports of players being in “the best shape of their life” is worth as much as tickets from the Fyre Festival. It’s good to hear this about Drummond, but we’ll want to see it before we believe it.

Can Drummond punish teams that go small against him? Can he find a way to get easy buckets in transition and space the floor a little more? Do that, with his rebounding, and he may get the payday he wants. But he’s going to have to show it all season long.

 

Report: Kawhi Leonard talked to Paul George — and PG asked for trade — before free agency opened

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This story is a perfect example of why small and middle-market owners were pissed off (to put it mildly) after this summer’s free agency. It’s why the league did an investigation. It’s why there are new rules, new talk of enforcement, and preaching a “culture of compliance” around tampering in the NBA.

None of that may have mattered in this case, either. The anti-tampering crackdown sounds good, but how much will it slow down how the real recruiting gets done: player-to-player? From Draymond Green texting Kevin Durant just after the Warriors 2016 Finals loss to this summer, it’s the game’s best players recruiting their peers that really bothers some teams.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, on his latest podcast, talks about just that and uses Kawhi Leonard‘s recruitment of Paul George as an example — and in the process blows up Doc Rivers idea that Leonard made his choice in a meeting when presented with a list.

“The idea that Kawhi Leonard first introduced the idea of trading for Paul George in his meeting with the Clippers, from a list, we know that days before free agency started, well days before, Kawhi and Paul George were talking. Paul George’s agent went to Oklahoma City prior to the start of free agency and said Paul would like to be traded to the Clippers. He wants to play with Kawhi. But, at that point, Kawhi wasn’t allowed to be talking with the Clippers. They couldn’t officially have contact with him until after June 30, 6 p.m.

“But among small markets, the player-to-player [tampering] is the issue. As a GM said to me recently, the teams are often the last to know in these instances. The star player goes out and starts working a guy, then says ‘I want this guy.'”

If you don’t think that is true, think back to the Brooklyn Nets saying Kevin Durant chose them without there even being a pitch meeting. It may not have been a total shock to Brooklyn Durant was coming, but they were not in the loop on decision-making process (except via Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was recruiting Irving).

The problem comes back to enforcement: How exactly is the league going to stop players who work out together in the summer, who go to dinner with each other, who may share agents (LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for example), from talking and recruiting each other? When Leonard spoke to George, he was about to be a free agent — he could talk to anyone he wanted. Leonard may have orchestrated all of this. How much the Clippers were in the loop is certainly up for debate, but this was Leonard’s power play.

Tampering may be less of an issue next summer with a soft free-agent class, but just wait for 2021 when potentially Kawhi and George, LeBron, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more hit the market. Those players will be talking, the league will be hard-pressed to stop it, and it all could lead to impressive fireworks.

Klay Thompson: ‘That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.’

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Stephen Curry wants to go to Tokyo and play for Team USA next summer. So does Draymond Green.

How about three Warriors?

If Klay Thompson is healthy, he wants to play in the Olympics next summer he told Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic.

“I would love to play (for) Team USA,” Thompson said. “That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.”

The biggest question for Thompson’s candidacy will be health. He is expected to be out until at least after the All-Star break recovering from the ACL he tore during the Finals last season. He could miss all of next season. That said, if he is healthy he would be a perfect fit for the international game — he is a dangerous three-point shooter, can handle the ball when needed, and is an outstanding perimeter defender. Team USA could use guys like that.

It won’t just be the big-name Warriors players who will want to step up next summer.

After USA Basketball finished seventh at this summer’s World Cup in China — due mostly to numerous top players choosing not to play for their nation this summer — it was expected that a wave of elite players will sign up for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Players are doing this less because revenge or re-establishing the USA’s basketball dominance — although expect that to be the narrative they pitch — and more about timing. FIBA, in its “infinite wisdom,” decided to move the World Cup from its usual spot, which would have been 2018, to 2019. Playing for USA Basketball is a 6-8 week summer commitment, and now the World Cup and Olympics are in back-to-back years. That left a lot of elite NBA players — and not just for Team USA — looking at the calendar and feeling they had to choose one or the other. And for American players, the Olympics will almost always win that fight.

USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo said he is going to remember who was willing to make the sacrifice to come this summer when it comes time to choosing an Olympic team. That may happen with a couple of roster spots, but he’s not turning elite talent away, either.

And all three of those Warriors would be the kind of elite players Team USA will want in Tokyo. If Thompson is healthy enough to go, expect him to pack his bags for Tokyo.